Collectivism Reconsidered

Collectivism Reconsidered

I

When one glances through the writings of our modern, hard-headed, non-utopian sociologists—students of industrial organization, of “labor relations,” of the corporation and its managerial structure—one notices a strain of controlled optimism in their otherwise businesslike and down-to-earth findings. Much as they would disclaim all sympathy with syndicalist notions or other forms of social romanticism, they are far from hopeless about the human pattern disclosed by large-scale organization. If the outlook is none too good for those at the bottom of the ladder, there are compensations in the offing for the higher and middle grades of the hierarchy: not merely Burnham’s “managers,”* but the entire group of administrators, consultants, scientists, technologists, engineers, and skilled workers—what might perhaps be termed the technological stratum. It is not simply that this group is growing in, numbers, in social importance, and perhaps
in the collective influence it exerts on industrial policy—there is also the emergence of a novel form of “industrial democracy” within this particular corporate body, a democracy based on technical competence; and because of it one may witness the growth of an esprit de corps which causes people in this group to hold together, as professionals usually do, against those outside their own order. Some of the most enthusiastic descriptions of modern large-scale industry have been done by people who claim for “the corporation” those virtues of intelligent social co-operation, voluntary discipline, intelligent planning, scientific training etc., which are in fact aspects of any large-scale organization whose work is rationally planned. In so far as such tributes are deserved they reflect the impact of scientific training on the way in which things are managed under conditions where both the administrator at the top, and the foreman near the bottom of the ladder, must know something about the technology of production. Technical education of workers, and scientific training of managers, are aspects of the same process of what the Germans call Verwissenschaftlichung; so, too, is the growing importance of teamwork and, at the higher levels, of what is vaguely known as planning. All this of course implies an ethos very different from that of the old-fashioned entrepreneur, who was in the habit of extemporizing means and ends simultaneously and who seldom troubled his head about the connection between them. To “proceed according to plan” is to assume the overriding importance of a general idea—in other words, of a collective idea. It is just because of this that individualism of the traditional sort goes by the board. But its place is not, or not necessarily, taken by bureaucratic routine—not even under a totalitarian regime which tries to stifle initiative in every field save the one in which it remains dependent on...


Lima